When Graham Rahal had his first victorious day, at St. Petersburg in the now distant year of 2008, his mother, Debi, wasn’t there.
She was in Greece with her youngest daughter.
When his second day came, seven long years later at Auto Club Speedway, she was busy taking care of her three grandchildren.
But at Mid-Ohio Sunday, Graham’s third day, she was finally there. She stood in Graham’s pit box watching him fulfill a dream he’d had his entire life:
Winning at the his home track, the only one that could rival Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“In fact, I had a dream Friday night that I won,” Rahal admitted. “I guess sometimes dreams do come true. I don’t know what else to say.”
The dream became reality as his father and owner, 1985 and ’86 race winner Bobby Rahal, watched over him from his spotter position in Turn 4. It was his first time at an IndyCar race since before the Fontana win.
“Coming here for so many years, I have been on the podium with dad before, saying, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’ (1998, at age 9), it’s just like the ties to this are amazing,” Rahal said. “That’s why it’s so cool to have my whole family here and be able to do something like this.”
The dream reached its apex as Graham took a slow victory lap and conducted his second burnout in four races in front of a mass of cheering fans on a hillside.
“I couldn’t hear them, but I could see them. I could see them all going crazy. That was pretty cool,” said Graham, who saw fans standing on fences to cheer when he first cycled to the lead under caution.
“I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ Who knows if you’re ever going to see that day.”
After 2008 that was a question often raised of the heir to IndyCar royalty, who raced on five teams between that year and 2013, when he settled in at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. In 2010 alone, without a full-time ride, he raced for four different teams.
In that time there were no wins.
“I feel very confident I would have won a lot more races earlier in my career if I had the maturity and the race craft that I do now,” says Rahal.
“I mean, I drove for some good teams and I had some quick cars, particularly 2009 with Newman/Haas, it was a great program. I think if I had known what the heck I was doing then, we probably would have won some races.
“Seven years that taught me a lot, taught me to be a lot more thankful for the opportunities that have come throughout my career.
His opportunity now is with his father’s own team, a single-car operation that’s a different specimen from the Newman/Haas and Ganassi teams he once competed for and struggled with. Now, with the two races left and only nine points separating him and first place, Rahal says he’s finally not worried about when he’ll win again.
“I think I used to put so much pressure on myself just to win, I probably made some mistakes, in 2011, ’12, that I shouldn’t have,” Rahal lamented after a nearly flawless race.
“But now I feel like it’s kind of behind me. Everybody always told me after I won my first, the second one would be a lot harder, then they would get easier from there.
“Hopefully that comes true.”
But he’s not worrying about it, at least not today.
“When it’s your day sometimes it’s your day.”